The second the guitar began to hum at the Great American Music Hall in anticipation of an incoming riff, the crowd erupted into a Darwinian flight-or-fight situation: Half the crowd moved upward through shoving and jumping, colliding obsessively with each other, while the other half moved as far to the side and back as possible to avoid the calamity. This is the effect of Joyce Manor, who kicked off its tour at San Francisco on Oct. 5.
The Torrance, California-based Joyce Manor debuted to high praise from critics with its self-titled album in 2011, where the band exuded the charisma that made bands such as Green Day and Blink-182 so popular in the ‘90s. On top of a tiny stage with a non-existent barrier, Joyce Manor barely rose up from the crowd, adding to an experience of one big party.
Though the crowd had a wide variety of people — including the one middle-aged man in the mosh pit — the youth is what kept the spirit of punk alive. Right when the performance began, a mass migration of mostly high schoolers concerned with moshing their money’s worth that night erupted toward the stage.
From there, it only got wilder — a countless number of crowd surfers climbed on stage, sang a line or two while pumping their fists, then jumped back down into a sea of hands that seemed to hold up bodies for what seemed like eternity. Early on in the set, while Joyce Manor played “Heart Tattoo,” an exploration of a young person getting a meaningless tattoo for the sake of getting one, a flannel was thrown in the air, a symbol of the grunge past that remains a sign of hipness.
The set was tight. With little banter in-between, Joyce Manor banged out songs one after another, all with high energy that revved the crowd up each time it seemed to get too tired for another mosh pit. In “Victoria,” the crowd sang along to all the lyrics, an anthem that caused lead vocalist and guitarist Barry Johnson to stop singing and bring the mic down into the audience, where the lyrics flowed perfectly from him to a screaming girl.
After loosening up a bit, Johnson broke the mostly silent time between songs and said, “Dude, I got this phone up here and someone’s mom is calling the shit out of them.” As the crowd urged him to pick up, Johnson shook his head, claiming he didn’t want to embarrass anybody. Bassist Matt Ebert jumped in, asking, “Is there anyone who shouldn’t be here … their mom said no? That’s tight.”
The show preceded the release of the band’s new album Cody by a day — though they were selling it at the merch table — and so the band played many new songs to a varying degree of success; the songs are longer and more developed, in less obvious punk fashion, but still hold onto the essence of Joyce Manor. From Cody, they played “Fake I.D.” early on, an exhilarating song that has a humorous line about a girl who thinks Kanye West is better than John Steinbeck but with an underlying hint of regret as he realizes their complete incompatibility.
Despite an influx of fresh material, Joyce Manor didn’t shy away from its old songs, playing “Housewarming Party,” one of the band’s first-released songs. The song was short, loud and smart-ass: a throwback to the beginnings of a band that was thought up while drunk in the back seat of a car at a Disneyland parking lot.
For its encore, Joyce Manor played “Constant Headache,” its breakthrough song. A single that undoubtedly stands out from the band’s work as a hit and is definitely its most recognizable and popular song, “Constant Headache” gave the completely drenched and tired crowd one last hurrah, as people jumped on to speakers, shouting along while moshing one last time.
Amid all the fun, Johnson closed off the night singing, “It’s such a stubborn reminder one perfect night’s not enough,” like an invite extended to the audience to keep coming back and supporting them — that despite all the fun they had that one night, it wouldn’t be enough.
Contact Hansol Jung at [email protected].